Welcome to the International Association for Learning Alternatives! There is a huge body of information at the website. You will notice that the top beige band at the website leads to a variety of sections such as interesting articles, items about alternatives, information on how to order materials, laws, our blog below and more in our commitment as the voice of choice.

Videos of New Types of Schools by Wayne Jennings

A ten part set of short videos (about ten minutes each) describe Mission Hill K-8 School in Boston, an elementary school founded by Deborah Meier. The school a part of the Boston public school has greater decision making authority as a “pilot” school and emphasizes democratic principles. The video series, A Year at Mission Hill gives insight into a highly regarded elementary school in many facets of its operation through videos taken throughout the year in real-time settings.

While not exclusive to secondary schools, a fabulous video resource is Design Essentials by EdVisions in Minnesota. These numerous short YouTube hosted videos address topics such as: advisory program, project-based learning, community resources, self-directed learning and authentic assessment.

Both of these resources serve professional development and do-it-yourself needs and are highly recommended for progressively minded people.

Could Students Design Their Own Education? by Wayne Jennings

An article in the Washington Post describes a high school pilot program (school within the school) where students were given total freedom to decide and implement their education. The students describe the program’s operation in a video. They describe greater dedication, engagement, interest and energy in self-selected areas of interests, skills and competencies and as a result more learning at a faster pace as seen in The Independent Project video.

This self-directed learning concept finds expression over a long period of time in such places as the Sudbury Valley Schools where during five decades K-12 students have determined their entire education apparently with good results and by the recent replication of 22 Sudbury schools in the US and 14 schools in other parts of the world.

A la carte schools allow students to build a personalized curriculum by choosing from 1,000s of courses and vendor programs.

Another example is the concept of unschooling, somewhat related to homeschooling described as “Unschooling places little emphasis on traditional school curriculum and encourages children to learn through their natural life experiences including play, game play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction.”

These examples fly in the face of conventional predetermined curricula that trumps personal direction. Might these examples provide clues to break the  precipitous decline in student engagement as shown in a Gallup poll of 500,000 students?

National and State Alternative Education Conferences by Wayne Jennings

A conference Mark your calendar for any of the following conferences about alternatives of interest to you or colleagues.

The 11th annual AERO conference will be held June 26-29, 2014 at Long Island University campus, near New York City.

The annual 32nd Minnesota Association for Alternative Programs will be held February 11-13, 2015.

The National At-Risk Education Network (NAREN) will hold its 12th annual conference April 22-24, 2015 in Baltimore.

50 Unique Colleges by Wayne Jennings

Start Building Your Unique Future is a website helping students determine higher education options. Their 50 Unique Colleges Every Non-Traditional Student Should Consider lists an an exciting group of universities with descriptions and links. These include Evergreen State College, College of the Atlantic, Goucher College, Naropa University, Antioch College and 45 more including online colleges. This interesting website has a wealth of information for students about choosing a career area and how to proceed .

Australia Choices Study by Wayne Jennings

Learning Choices: A Map for the Future, a comprehensive national report, describes the existing education choices in Australia for secondary age youth. It pulls together existing research and evidence, summarizes data and findings, identifies gaps in knowledge and offers recommendations. The report includes a valuable resource of other research on Australian alternative education. This is a readable report with useful data and descriptions.

Expanding Choices by Wayne Jennings

IALA promotes learning alternatives for all. One size education does not fit all: therefore, options must be made available. That’s the direction for the future. Here are two resources highly supportive of that aim.

The Brown Center on Educational Policy at the Brookings Institution has published “Expanding Choice In Elementary and Secondary Education: A Report on Rethinking the Federal Role in Education,” a 31 page report. It says, “The types of school choice now available include choice among traditional public schools within districts (intra–district choice), choice between school districts (inter-district choice), charter schools, school vouchers, virtual schools, and finally, the oldest and most pervasive form of school choice–choice of school when selecting one’s residence.” The report describes each of these with pros and cons. The report recommends expanding choices so that all parents of school-age children have options to better meet needs and values. This requires more choices and well designed information systems. “The reauthorization of ESEA should incentivize districts to establish open enrollment plans such as those currently in place in New York City and Boston.” A well-written valuable report with references.

Also noted is the  National Center on School Choice at Vanderbilt University. Their federally funded work appears to be primarily the publication of scholarly papers and books on the topic.

IALA promotes giving schools greater autonomy over program, staffing and budget; multiple measures for gauging program effectiveness; flexible licensure; and, pilot programs as a way of supporting innovation. See position paper.

Competencies for Teaching and Learning by Wayne Jennings

A major option has arose around the concept of competencies for both teachers and students. For decades, the greatest underlying debate over the direction of education has been subject matter mastery versus competencies for life. For example, it is argued that mastery of social studies, math, science and language arts will produce a successful adult. The national Common Core Standards supports this approach. The competency approach says to spell out competencies of a successful person and then teach those competencies through various learning experiences. Of course, there would be considerable overlap in what these two school approaches would do but the underlying philosophies and purpose are quite different. A considerable body of research, such as the Eight Year Study, supports the competency approach.

We now see interest in spelling out the specific competencies of effective teachers with training programs established to accomplish that result. Public Impact’s report Using Competency-Based Evaluation to Drive Teacher Education and School Turnaround Leaders: Competencies for Success describes the  thorough and successful training of teachers in Singapore and elsewhere. Similarly, the concept of badging  or badges and here is finding greater acceptance as a way of indicating successive accumulation of skills and knowledge, not unlike merit badges of Scouts. The competency approach applies to children and youth as well.

One well-developed plan describes the teacher competencies for a progressive school and how to assess competence. This is a document on our website and available for all to use.

Learning Not Schooling by Wayne Jennings

Don Glines, who has the premier book on educational alternatives (available in our store), has written Declaring War against Schooling: Personalized Learning Now. Dr. Glines has distilled 50 years of his forward thinking and practice into this profoundly important work. He finds that research supports radically different kinds of schools. In fact, the word “school “carries the baggage of obsolete beliefs and sets us on the wrong path of trying to fix it. He emphasizes starting with learning, a human trait, to design optimal conditions rather than just repairing what we now have. Don is also famous for having directed the Wilson campus school during the 60s and 70s, seen by many as the most innovative school in the nation, then and since. A videotape of that school is also available in our store.

Institute for Democratic Education in America by Wayne Jennings

A fairly new organization the, Institute for Democratic Education in America identifies critical areas for learning that “equip every human being to participate fully in a healthy democracy.” Their website urges reinventing education strategically, collaboratively, and sustainably. It offers examples, links, definitions, invitations to become involved and a host of resources. Clearly, an up-and-coming organization bound to have an impact on public education.

School Choice Necessary for Education by Wayne Jennings

The Brown Center on Education at Brookings published a system for ranking school districts on how much choice of educational programs is afforded children. They argue that options are necessary  and valuable in an article and short video. Their rank of 25 large cities on 13 criteria ranges from grades B to D.  Their booklet Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education argues that the government should as a matter of policy provide choices for every child.

IALA espouses this policy as its core mission.

Reshaping National Assessment Policy by Wayne Jennings

Harold Berlak, an experienced educator writes: “Dozens of professional educational associations corporate lobbies, think tanks, have offered proposals for reauthorizing ESEA/ NCLB. I summarize and offer commentary on key proposals of three prominent organizations….”  They are The Forum on Educational Accountability, Broader Bolder Approach to Education (an offshoot of Economic Policy Institute), Forum for Education and Democracy. All three issued their reports prior to Obama’s election and were “written with an eye to how Congress should go about reauthorizing NCLB, and repairing or undoing the educational disaster inflicted by ESEA 2001, aka No Child Left Behind.” Berlak’s brief readable critique offers sensible and politically feasible suggestions for Congress that on its present course is unlikely to yield much in the area of accountability and testing. His paper can be requested from hberlak@yahoo.com.

Social and Emotional Learning Impact by Wayne Jennings

CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning has promoted a thorough study, “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions,” on the impact on social and emotional learning. Encompassing 213 studies involving 270,000 students, the authors find significant impacts from practices not only on academic learning but also empathy, decision-making skills, conflict resolution skills, health, school behavior, high-risk behavior, work ethic, and ultimate school success.

CASEL promotes the development of five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. The result: A shift from being  predominantly controlled by external factors to acting with internalized beliefs and values, caring and concern for others, making good decisions, and taking responsibility for one’s choices and behaviors.

Online Learning Resources by Wayne Jennings

Online learning, virtual schools, cyber schools, blended learning terms apply to the fastest growing area of learning alternatives, both K-12 and higher education. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) a nonprofit representing 3,800 members tracks advocacy, networking, professional growth and research areas. They provide or list webinars, conferences and news. A new website OnlineSchools.com aims to be a central source of information with descriptions, rationale, lists of schools, resources and more. Some states have online learning associations as further sources of information.

Besides full time programs, blended learning programs are increasingly found in almost all high schools in the nation and now spreading to middle and elementary schools. This describes students taking regular courses along with one or more online courses for credit endorsed by their school. A new 178 page report “The Rise of Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models” by the Innosight Institute describes 40 blended learning organizations and 48 different models.

Leaders Affirm the Importance of Choice by Wayne Jennings

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and the US Department of Education assembled leaders from 20 of the largest school district for a discussion of providing choices. Their report Reforming Districts Through Choice, Autonomy, Equity, and Accountability: An Overview of the Voluntary Public School Choice Directors Meeting strongly affirmed the importance of providing learning alternatives of various kinds including open enrollment, magnet schools and charter schools for all students to better meet the needs and preferences of parents and students. School districts need to take leadership for a seamless combination of choices even if it means relinquishing levels of control.

From IALA’s standpoint, this is an overdue but welcome affirmation of our position that all students should have a choice of distinctively different programs.

Whyville, Home to 6 Million Students by Wayne Jennings

The developer in 1999 of Whyville, Dr. James Bower gives a delightful talk entitled, The Death of Textbooks, Emergence of Games in a little over an hour webinar and describes the fascination young students have with creating an alter ego (avatar) and a whole new world to shape and manipulate. Whyville now attracts 5,000 teachers and some 6.8 million kids as young as age 4 with 78% girls, even some senior citizens. Use of the program develops all sorts of skills and knowledge normally taught in classrooms via teaching and textbooks. This astonishing program doesn’t replace schooling but augments learning through deep engagement. This is a likely future part of education and has considerable support from foundations and businesses.

Take the time with this webinar to consider the impact of this rapidly growing segment of computer use. The implications may blow your paradigms.